Obama - Partisanship and Contrast

Big Tent Democrat has written much, both here and previously on Dkos, about his stylistic issues with Barack Obama - most recently in his diary titled "Partisanship." The substance of his complaint is that Obama's instincts are faulty when he positions himself as being a consensus builder.  Partisanship it is argued, wins elections.  

It appears to me that many in the blogsphere find this argument persuasive.  Without drawing sharp contrast between ourselves and the Republicans, many feel we fail to distinguish the Democratic brand.  For this reason John Edwards has emerged as the candidate of the progressive blogsphere as his rhetoric has become more and more populist in recent months.  National polls however, suggest that this populism is not catching fire with Edwards running a distant third among Democrats - trailing badly behind two moderates.  Even in his much-touted head-to-head matchups against Republican candidates, his advantage is very likely built on southern voters who refuse to vote for a woman or black man - and perhaps concentrated in areas where we cannot win in 2008.  It is also worth noting that the same matchups always come with perception polls showing that the larger electorate still sees John Edwards as the moderate they knew from 2004.

No matter how you slice it, the argument for the electoral superiority of populism would be hard to make with the current data.  

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Why Obama Stands for Democrat

Well this is fun.  I make a simple comment about the image problems the parties face and Whoosh!  Controversy.  Now I have to respond.  In the last week I have shifted, and there are many reasons.  Oddly, one of the reasons is what he is being criticized for.  There are those who believe that Barack is running from the party.  It seems that they are not listening.  Partisanship is poisonous when misdirected or overused.  Poisonous to a candidate, a party, and ultimately a country.  For Obama to understand this does not mean he is running from the party; indeed it is his very understanding of this fact that may save it.  Barack is most certainly a Democrat.  As State Senator he proposed an amendment to the state constitution requiring all children in Illinois receive healthcare.  He chose a life as a civil rights lawyer instead of being a high paid corporate shill.  Yet even this sampling of his Democratic credentials does not silence his detractors.  The point about him running from the Democratic Party is ludicrous.  Just because he wants to expand the party base, and govern as a representative of all people, does not mean he is less of a Democrat.  Just because he understands that it takes more than flour to bake a cake does not mean he is less of a Democrat.  Just because he is willing to recognize our failures as a nation and a party with an eye towards solving those problems does not make him less of a Democrat.  Just because he would rather herd the cattle peacefully instead of branding them painfully does not mean he is less of a Democrat.  Look, people, if you think Democrats are popular, think again.  We are Milk of Magnesia to their Castor Oil.  Carrots to Brussel Sprouts.  We desperately need a voice to get people excited about our brand.

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Comparing Ideology and Partisanship Across State Legislatures


Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science points to a very interesting article by Christopher Berry and Nolan McCarty Mapping State and Congressional Ideology looking into ideology and partisanship as measured by voting patterns within state legislatures. What is really clever and useful is that the authors have scaled the State ideological dimension to the US Congress, allowing us to compare the partisanship between state and federal levels as well as between different states.

How do they do the scaling? Using "bridge" politicians who have graduated from their state legislature to the US Congress. As Andrew comments:

Cool. This is sort of like those things where people compare Babe Ruth to Mike Schmidt, or whatever: Ruth played with Gehrig, who played with etc etc., going up to the present time. I guess the next thing to do is check that the "bridge actors" identified by Shor et al. are not systematically different than other legislatures, for example, in changing their attitudes when moving up to the big House.

Not all states provide good databases of voting records, so they only have a few states mapped: PA, FL, MI and CA. The short of it? Measured by median voting records, MI Republicans are very conservative, CA Democrats are fairly Liberal, and PA Dems are relatively more to the middle, and both PA and FL Reps share the same, moderately conservative voting record.

For deep statistical discussions, I really enjoy the blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science which writes a lot on statistics applied to political analysis. These guys are <hush> Bayesians </hush>, a branch of statistics with alchemical reputation when I was back in school.

Here's the abstract:

Two major problems exist in applying ideal point estimation techniques to state legislatures. First, there has been a scarcity of available longitudinal roll call data. Second, even where such data exists, scaling ideal points within a single state suffers from a basic defect. No comparisons can be made across institutions, whether to other state legislatures or to the US Congress. Our project is a solution to both of these dilemmas. We use a new comparative data set of state legislative roll calls beginning in the mid-1990s to generate ideal points for legislators. We then take advantage of the fact that state legislators sometimes go on to serve in Congress to create a common ideological scale between Congress and the various legislatures. These "bridge actors" are similar in concept to members of the House who go on to serve in the Senate, thereby providing the "glue" necessary to scale the House and Senate together. We have successfully prototyped this approach for California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Using these bridge actors, we create a new state-federal congressional common space ideological scores. We conclude by using these common space scores to address important topics in the literature.

The money quotes start at page 16 in the PDF of the article:

Now, for the first time, we can directly compare the results from different states with each other, as well as with the US House. We do so first by comparing the range of ideological preferences in each institutional setting. The US House is constrained by the NOMINATE procedure to lie in the (-1,1) range. Unlike scaled scores, predicted scores can range beyond the (- 1,1) range of NOMINATE. Therefore, California's and Michigan's most conservative Republicans are quite conservative indeed by congressional standards, reaching out as far as 1.5 on the first dimension. In contrast, Florida has an ideological range that look more like that of Congress.

Second, we compare medians of each state's bichamber "legislature." The congressional median is at 0.5, understandable as the House was dominated by Republicans over the course of 1996-2006. Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania also have moderately conservative institutional medians over their respective time periods, while California has a moderately liberal median. The results largely echo Berry et al. (1998)'s elite ideology scores for the states (see below).

Third, we can compare the party medians. Michigan's Republicans stick out by being extremely conservative, while the other states' Republicans mirror the House. Democrats are far more diverse, ranging from less liberal in Pennsylvania and Michigan to most liberal in California. Florida sticks out again, and looks most like a microcosm of the US House, with identical Democratic and Republican medians.

Fourth, we can say something about partisan polarization which has become such a hot topic in American politics (McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal 2006). The baseline remark, of course, is that preferences are distributed bimodally. Beyond this simple fact, what more can we say? One way to compare polarization across institutional settings is to check the distance between party medians. Pennsylvania's party medians are closest together, California's are furthest apart, and Florida's look like the US House.


Paul Krugman has advice for Barack Obama

I did not see this posted anywhere on MyDD and thought it too important a point to leave unsaid:

In his NY Times column today, Paul Krugman writes the following:

Barack Obama recently lamented the fact that "politics has become so bitter and partisan" - which it certainly has.

But he then went on to say that partisanship is why "we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first." Um, no. If history is any guide, what we need are political leaders willing to tackle the big problems despite bitter partisan opposition. If all goes well, we'll eventually have a new era of bipartisanship - but that will be the end of the story, not the beginning.

Or to put it another way: what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower....

It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by "modern Republicans" who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.

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Partisan Line Predictions?

[Cross-posted from the Predict06 Blog]

We here at Predict06 knew all along that one of the most difficult parts of this project would be balancing people's political loyalties with their abilities as unbiased predictors.  We didn't, however, think that the partisanship of prediction would be this stark.

Allow me to illustrate.  In the first 24 hours after we went live, 102 members predicted half or more of the Senate races.  Most of those 102 predicted all 13 races.

Of those 102, 80 members predicted one party or the other would sweep the competitive Senate races or miss a sweep by just one race.  In other words, 80% of active members made straight partisan predictions.

And it was on both sides.

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